High Lonesome is a mature record by a seasoned, forward-thinking country artist. Randy Travis, like George Strait and Alan Jackson, saw the new young bucks heading his way up the charts with a watered-down version of the country music he held sacred. And Travis is a direct descendent of the greats like George Jones and Merle Haggard as well as Jim Reeves and Ernest Tubb. Travis wanted to articulate his vision of the music further and entrench it deeper in its roots, which were beginning to give way to the faux rock and pop styles of Garth Brooks and his dire ilk, who wore bachelor pad curtains for shirts. Travis co-wrote five of the album's ten tracks, including a trio with Jackson. Of those, "A Better Class of Losers" is the song that Brooks wishes he could have written. This is the angry side of the George Jones/Tammy Wynette version of "We're Not the Jet Set." Stinging dobros and pedal steels underline every one of Travis' indictments of yuppie culture. In addition, "I'd Surrender All" shows the pair digging deep into the territory Conway Twitty inhabited before he urbanized his sound, and their "Forever Together" is as fine a country love ballad as the 1990s produced; it's a song Hag would have been proud to record back in the day.
Another highlight is the mandolin and fiddle-driven waltz that comprises the title track. Written by the criminally undersung Gretchen Peters, it's the long, slow ballad with dobros ringing in the background that was made for Travis' amazing voice. He expresses without stretching; each phrase rings as true as the last. Kyle Lehning's production is unobtrusive and clean, setting Travis in perfect balance with a band that feels live. Not to be outclassed in the honky tonk department, "Allergic to the Blues" is a politically incorrect swinging barroom anthem written by Jackson and Jim McBride. Keeping a woman hostage because of an unwillingness to experience pain and rejection is hardly tasteful, but this is a country song and the tongue is firmly placed in cheek in Travis' read. The set closes with "I'm Gonna Have a Little Talk," an awesome a cappella duet with Take 6. It's country gospel elevated by the 6 to high tension rather than to differing versions of rural gospel. Take 6 is thoroughly modern, sophisticated, and glossy. Travis is so country he couldn't be city if he tried to buy it. This wouldn't have worked anywhere near as well if he had recorded the track with the Blind Boys of Alabama, but in this context, it puts a slick finishing touch on a fine album.